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October 2, 2010 Leave a comment

As a music buff, I’m absolutely in love with Pandora Radio’s ability to introduce me to new music, despite issues with it’s algorithm. Pandora, however, is one of those websites that requires you to fill out a male/female gender category, it’s excuse being that it uses this information to target advertisements to it’s listeners. Deciding that I would equally ignore all ads, I simply told Pandora I was female as determined by a coin flip. A while after making my account, I was treated to an underwear commercial featuring a ten year old girl in the sidebar, and decided that I never wanted to encounter that ad again. Fortunately Pandora lets you change your gender after having made an account, and I figured that changing my identification to male would stop me from having scantily clad underage people sprung on me. So I did that. The changes in the advertisements I’ve been getting are a bit more than I expected. Here’s the summary:

Expected changes: So far no children in underwear (if I get little boy underwear commercials, I’ll may decide to front the monthly payment to avoid adds, or if I can’t do that I’ll have to bid Pandora farewell). Also, no shopping ads so far. And of course no more birth control pill ads, though they market condoms to both categories. The fact that shopping ads are only targeted to those identifying themselves as female is of course highly stereotyped, I know women who hate shopping and men who love it, but it’s such a pervasive idea that I’m not surprised to see it here. I’ve also stopped getting ads for Taylor Swift (and I gotta tell you there’s nothing funnier than listening to Suicide Commando and having a picture of Taylor Swift in the corner of the screen), but I haven’t heard anything much about her recently anywhere else either so I’m not sure if that has anything to do with the switch.

Things that surprised me: First, no more dating website ads. This confuses me, because unless a site is specifically targeted to queer people wouldn’t it be most beneficial to have roughly equal numbers of men and women on the site? I’m not sure if there is a stereotype that covers this, but all other dating website commercials I’ve seen seemed to target men and women equally. Second, and more disturbingly, I’ve started to get ads for audio books and colleges when I didn’t before. Why aren’t these topics considered unisex? Especially since women currently outnumber men in post-secondary education in America. My mother is the most avid consumer of audio books I’ve seen. Why are books and education only being targeted to those identifying themselves as men? Is the conceptualization of women as “dumb bitches” still so pervasive that it effects advertising to this extent? Then again, back in August when Pandora thought I was female I got all the ads for back-to-school textbook deals, but the audio book thing is definitely new.

Does this jive with other people’s experiences with ads on Pandora (or elsewhere for that matter)? It would be silly to generalize just based on what has been targeted at me, so I’m wondering if people have noticed similar patterns.

Edit: I have started to get dating site ads. Also, unexpectedly, shopping ads, though they are read with a male voice. The audio book and college ads continue, and continue to bother me.

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Why is “woman” an insult?

August 17, 2010 2 comments

If you’re active on or knowledgeable about the internet at all, you will probably know about the popular criticisms of one Justin Beiber. If you’re not (lucky you) then basically it boils down to the following joke: lol beiber looks like/is a girl lol. This is somehow supposed to be a criticism of him and a reason as to why we don’t like him (beyond things like subjective musical taste, message, and skill). The “Justin Beiber Sucks” group on facebook lists he “sounds like a 5 year old girl” as a reason as to the aforementioned suckage. There are even facebook groups suggesting Beiber should be seriously injured. In other professions questions like this can potentially cost you your job or reputation.

If you think these jokes are funny or harmless, think about what it means in society when a man or male-identified person is called a woman. The most common sentence I’ve heard is “stop being such a woman”. It implies weakness, often emotional weakness. It is always an insult. It is occasionally tied up with the implication that someone is gay, that of course also being intended as an insult. The “you’re a woman” insult is often applied to gay men, or men perceived to be gay, or similar statements of “you want to be a woman” or “you behave like a woman”, also intended to be insulting or provoke anger. The phrase “chick flick” is generally used to be condescending to a film, though not always (there are people who use the label “chick flick” to refer to movies that they like, but most of my experience with the term is that it is intended to be negative). The childhood insult “sissy” began life as a diminutive of “sister”.

Now what happens when the reverse occurs, when a woman or woman-identified person is called a man? Is there any stigma in being “one of the guys”? “She’s the man.” These are good things. Even when harassing women over “manly” characteristics, “man” is never used as an insult (except for with a few radfems and the deliberate misgendering of transwomen). A woman is more likely to encounter “dyke” used as an insult, the harassment being an attempt to force stereotypical feminine behavior on women. It’s the same intent as in the above paragraph, but instead of the connotation that those characteristics are bad, it carries the meaning that those characteristics aren’t for you. Instead of “you’re weak for being like that” it’s “stop that, go take your (assumed*) vagina and go play with the lacy things”. Similarly, lesbians would never be accused of being men or wanting to be men, because the implications of the harassment is that they ARE women and as such should behave certain ways (in this case, sexually).

(*Because not all women have vaginas, even though we sometimes pretend they do.)

Criticisms about a woman’s appearance may focus on how certain “manly” characteristics are unsexy, i.e. the infamous “man hands” (this stands out to me because I saw a Seinfeld commercial when in middle school that centered on this very concept, for some reason it’s really stuck with me). There’s nothing wrong with being turned off by large hands, really, but given that the hands are attached to a woman, should the phrase be “she has big lady hands”? A woman who does not shave her legs, armpits, or pubic region may also be considered unattractive because body hair is “manly” (even though ALL people grow hair in these places as a sign of sexual maturity). But again, the criticism is not that these characteristics are bad or “weak” in any way, as “woman-the-insult” tries to imply, but that the woman in question should not have them.

Saying “she’s manly” is often synonymous with “she’s ugly”, while calling a man a woman questions his integrity, strength, and attacks his sexuality. Both are bad, but while one speaks to personal taste (and simultaneously sexualizes the woman involved, even if it is to say that she is undesirable sexually), the other is more often used as a personal attack and implies that a good half of society is undesirable in some way and that the desirable half should not be like them. In essence: man good woman bad.

This is really the MO of the patriarchy: 1. All characteristics fall into discrete groups (masculine and feminine). 2. All people fall into discrete groups (men and women). 3. The groups are associated and exclusive (men are masculine, women are feminine) and any deviation is bad. 4. One of the groups is better than the other (masculinity and by extension men). All of these steps are fundamentally wrong, but it is the last one that is at play here with the “you are a woman” insult.

There are exceptions of course. A friend of mine who is very heavy into drag queen subculture calls pretty much everybody “girl”. The words “bro” and “dude” are often used to make fun of a certain male stereotype, and one transperson I know of uses “bro-dude” to refer to misogynistic behavior. But the overarching trend is that being called a man is good, and being called a woman is bad (unless they’re referring to your appearance, in which case being called a man means you’re an unfuckable troll and therefore worthless).

Oppression for the Sake of Removing Oppression: doesn’t work.

(Note:  I am not Muslim nor do I identify as female, so if I have screwed up anywhere in this please correct me.  Nicely.)

I had something else I wanted to talk about, but that can wait a few days.  This is about an article I read this morning in USA Today.  France, it seems, along with several other nations, is attempting to place a ban on niqabs (otherwise known as “the veil”) and burqas.  There are several reasons given for this, but the one that sands out to me most is that they are “a symbol of the oppression of women.”

Here’s the thing about that:  yes, sort of.  In a number of nations hijabs and/or other coverings are required for women in public.  This requirement is a symbol of oppression of women, justified through religion-based patriarchy.  Forcing women to cover is oppression.  But are women in France being forced to cover?  One might argue, given that many European Muslim communities operate in their own neighborhoods similar to Chinatowns in cities in the US, that they are under social pressure to do so by their family and neighbors.  But I have a little story for you.

There is a girl attending my university who wears a niqab around campus.  This is a liberal, American, predominantly Christian university.  What social pressure could possibly be influencing her to veil?  The general social pressure likely is in the opposite direction.  So why do it, if the act is so intrinsically oppressive?  Certainly she has been brought up with it, being taught that it is a symbol of humility or devotion to god or similar.  But is that really much different than my parents teaching me from a young age not to wander around with my shirt off?  (Note: I possess no sexualized organs that would be covered by a shirt, so I feel the covering is comparable and only a matter of degree.)  Perhaps it lacks the religious motivations, but is that sufficient to define oppression?  Because this girl CHOOSES to cover, regardless of her immediate surroundings.  If one person chooses this, others must as well.  And that is what marks oppression, lack of choice.

So these laws being voted on, what are they?  Because if forcing someone to do something they don’t want to do is oppression, what would you call forcing someone to not do something harmless that they want to do?  I call it oppression.  These measures, being partly justified by the removal of oppression, are oppression in and of themselves.  You are taking something women choose to do and saying “you clearly can’t know what’s good for you, because this is oppression, I will figure it out for you.”  It’s in the same vein as radical feminists who think women who want to be homemakers are oppressing themselves.  Yes some people are forced into it, but it is that act of forcing, not the activity (I am referring to both veiling and homemaking at this point), that is oppressive.

There is only one instance where a law against face covering makes sense: identification.  In air travel and for government ID facial recognition is generally required.  But that doesn’t justify a wide-spread ban (France would ban facial coverings in public places), or even a ban in airports and similar.  Here’s how it should go:  “Ma’am, please remove you veil while I check your ID.  Thank you, you can put it back now.”  About the same as if I was wandering through an airport with a mask on.

Edit:  I can’t find the original article I read in USA Today online (it was on 10A though, if you have a hard copy).  I did find these two artcles on the same topic.